Age Trajectories of Social Policy Preferences

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The political discourse on demographic change has gained momentum in many developed countries. When it began, the discussion centred on the question of how to influence population ageing through political means (e.g., by raising fertility rates). But political decision makers now seem to be concerned about the consequences of demographic change on societal dynamics, especially intergenerational relations. This is particularly evident in Germany, where the latest pension increase provoked a discussion about a possible transformation of the political system into a “gerontocracy”, in which the elderly control public resources to their own benefit. In this paper, we investigate whether there is evidence for such a scenario by looking at two main questions. First, what is the effect of age on preferences toward social policies, which organise public transfers between generations (family and pension policies)? Second, to what extent does a possible age effect depend on further demographic factors, such as parenthood and marriage, which represent the framework of an individual’s life course? In order to answer these questions, we use recent survey data (GGS 2005 and PPAS 2003), which we analyse by applying standard linear models as well as Generalised Additive Models. The latter allow us to identify the trajectories of a possible age effect and its dependency on other demographic variables. In contrast to most existing studies, our analyses show clear age effects: older people are less prone to support a variety of transfers to families than younger respondents. At the same time, the elderly are more prone to support pension policy reforms that put an even greater burden on the younger generation. We can also show that the age effects found are not always linear and follow different trajectories across the life course. We therefore argue that classical economic concepts cannot fully explain age-based support for intergenerational transfers. Age effects have to be seen in light of further demographic variables beyond a solely economically defined life cycle.

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